Early career researcher wins Premier’s award for medical research

Dr Stephanie Simonds

Dr Stephanie Simonds, a researcher at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, has been awarded the prestigious 2016 Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research at a ceremony at Government House.

Dr Simonds’ award recognises her research into how the brain regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases in obesity. Her research - published in two separate issues of one of the world’s most prestigious science journals, Cell, including a first author paper – revealed the role of the hormone, leptin, in the development of elevated blood pressure in obesity.

At the ceremony last night, Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy presented Dr Simonds with the award.

Dr Simonds’ research is aimed at unraveling the role that leptin has in causing cardiovascular diseases. In people of normal weight, when they have had enough food – their fat cells produce leptin, triggering the brain to stop eating. However in people with obesity, this message is ignored, and large levels of leptin build up.

Working with Professor Michael Cowley, also from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Dr Simonds and her colleagues are working in animal models to isolate the area of the brain that increases blood pressure when it is exposed to high leptin levels. It is hoped that developing therapies that could actively block high leptin levels in this brain region could lower the cardiovascular disease risk associated with obesity.

Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, said he was glad to see Dr Simonds hard work "pay off with great publications" and now, the Premier's award.

"We are very proud of Stephanie who is off to a great start in her research career. She has combined great insight and expertise to discover one of the major factors responsible for the control of obesity," Professor Carroll said.

Professor Christina Mitchell, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, said it was extremely satisfying to see Monash University’s early career researchers being recognised at such as high level as the Premier’s award.

“Victoria has always been a leader in medical research and our research community at Monash University has been part of that, thanks in part to the support from the Victorian State Government. This award for Stephanie is recognition of her extraordinary achievements to date which would be impressive in a mid-career scientist let alone one on her first post-doctoral fellowship,” Professor Mitchell said.